Alumni Interview with Miles Walker
Name: Miles Walker
Major at Berklee: Music Production and Engineering
Graduation Date: 2003
Professional Title: Mixing Engineer
Employer: MixedbyMiles Inc
What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of in your career thus far?
I’m very proud of many things I’ve done: big records and working with big artists, even winning some Grammys. With all of that, I’m most proud of the fact that I get to make music every day for a living. I work a job that is what many people dream they would do if they won the lottery. I feel most proud of the fact that every day I go to work, I might be making a piece of music that could change somebody’s life. It’s a humbling experience to know I might be working on somebody’s future favorite song any given Tuesday at work; I feel very lucky for the chance to do that.
What are the most challenging aspects of your current job?
My job has many technical and personal challenges. On the technical side of things, I try to stay current with new technology and ways of making music. For instance, many of the projects I did at Berklee were all on tape and now everything is on the computer. We also take those computers on the road, so it’s not even in the studio now all the time! The way you can make music is always going to change through technology, but the challenge is to not let it get in your way. The feeling of the music and the songwriting will live on forever in a song, but the software version of your plug-ins and recording software is only going to be around for ... oh wait, they just updated it, have to download the new driver.
The personal challenges of the work involve understanding people and relationships, and how to not let differences in personality or business get in the way of the chance to make a really great piece of music together. Working with so many creative minds, everyone has little things they do differently and they feel differently about the business side of work. I feel the challenge being a mixer with so many different clients is to try and meet them in their headspaces and ideas instead of forcing them to yours. You’ll find they are more receptive to collaborating ideas if you are on even ground with them instead of forcing your point of view right out the gate. Just like the technical, personalities are always updating too, so you have to be able to know how to give the right amount of energy in a conversation to keep it all positive and moving forward.
What would you say are the top requirements (skills, mind-set, etc.) for someone entering this line of work?
To be successful in the music industry, in any field, you have to be willing to work harder than anybody else in the same job. Being energetic, motivated, and driven are going to be the core characteristics you can always come back to whenever a challenge comes up (and they will) and help you either figure it out or just push forward through it. That alone could get you going. Past that, I think it’s important as an engineer to want to keep learning and growing your knowledge, well past school. There’s always something new and great to learn to become even better, so you should push yourself to do that. Learning how to work with others is good too, for information sharing and collaboration is sometimes the best way to open up new doors of ideas.
What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?
My normal day now is very different than ones of years past. Now, I usually arrive at the studio and work on a new mix, something I’d set up via email or conversations with the client/producer/record label maybe the day before. I’ll get a feel for the song and then start working on the mix; vocals always first as some of my mix mentors taught me. Once that’s good I’ll hook up the drums and music, and then hit the last-minute sprinkles on it to make it shine. When I think it’s ready, I’ll get back in touch with the client so they can listen and we can start sharing ideas on the final mix. Technology here really helps out so we can collaborate in real time, even if they are in Japan; stuff like streaming audio and video chats make us feel like we are in the same room when we’re half a world away. It’s a very cool way of making music. We might keep this up until we all think it’s great, then finalize and set up the next song for the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
What would be a reasonable salary range to expect if I entered this field? What is the long-term potential?
Salary is really up to the individual. Most of the work as an engineer is based on the job they are doing. Recording or tracking might be one fee, mixing or vocal producing could be another, and the individual—based on their experience and time available—often determines each rate.
Long-term, if you have built up a good client base, you can do well for yourself by helping out a big variety of clients and not just relying on one group at a time to make all the records.
This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?
Man … you aren’t lying. The shift in the industry is one that was brought about by equal parts technology and equal parts business choices. Technology has allowed people all over the world to make music easier and cheaper, and share it with everyone else easily and freely. This was never the case before; it was expensive to make records and then you needed it to be promoted and distributed by a label.
Also, the business model was such that we thought it would never end, so budgets weren’t closely followed, and a label’s year would be based on its big artist selling millions of records. When sales declined, due to either illegal file sharing or interest in new different artist, labels suffered at the hands of the old business model that wasn’t functioning anymore.
Moving forward, the labels have rebounded and kept on track with budgets and newly proposed artist deals that don’t rely only on physical sales, but full marketable expenses. I think, moving forward, all members of the music industry will have to continue to make more with less. All the exposure from the internet is making it harder and harder to stand out, but as always, the best music will always win.
How has your Berklee experience prepared you for what you are doing today?
Berklee gave me great technical tools to enter music business, but also really helped me understand how to work with people. So many opportunities I’ve gotten in my career are because of a relationship I had with another person. After the fact, it was like, “oh you are also technically good at this line of work too…” but it was all about that personal relationship first. At Berklee, I met friends and students that I work with literally to this day. I also met and had great friendships with my professors, which I can also say equally helped me get some of my first opportunities (and I can thankfully say I’m still friends with those professors to this day, too). The hard time deadlines of school projects and super-long nights were precursors to much bigger, tighter deadlines and longer nights. The broke student life was but a luxury to the lowly, really broke life of the unpaid intern in a studio. All aspects are mirrors of how it will be in the industry, and if you make the most of it while a student, you’ll probably make the most of it in the real world, good and bad.
If you could offer just one piece of career advice to students, what would it be?
Careers are like roller coasters, it’s going to be up and down. Try and really enjoy the ups when they are happening and make the most of every chance you get to do something you love. When it’s really good, it doesn’t get better, so just enjoy it fully. There are downs too, but you don’t have to get hung up on those; they will come, just work through them and know there’s another up around the corner if you have the right attitude. It’s not something that will last forever if you keep working hard and stay focused. And remember: this was your dream. You are making music for a living. You already won.